Terra. Review by Max Liu
If “reality” must appear in inverted commas then perhaps “nature” should too. That’s the impression you get from Terra, a small, challenging exhibition, featuring five British sculptors, at the Jerwood Space. As it says in the catalogue, “nature - as a neutral background to human activity, an untouched primordial world - no longer exists.”
Terra has been curated in conjunction with Grizedale Forest, “the UK’s first forest for art.” We might be used to seeing work which is concerned with how art exists beyond the gallery’s white walls but the exhibition places such tension at the front of our minds. We become the space in between and that’s always fertile territory.
Entering the Jerwood, you immediately encounter Edwina Fitzpatrick’s Arboreal Laboratory: In mythology the Gods always smelled good. Four glass vessels on Perspex plinths, rather gorgeous structures that present a dilemma: it would be satisfying to touch them but a single fingerprint would blemish their radiant transparency. Stepping to and back is inspired by other pieces here but Fitzpatrick’s sculpture also dramatises a psychogeography of presence and absence, like buildings that have survived multiple manifestations, seen countless lives pass through. There’s something political about the way that as a group they begin to envelope you. Standing before them it’s possible to feel quite exposed. They can be experienced as metaphors for political or ecological systems, as beautiful, compelling objects in themselves and in relation to each other, or both. Typing at night, one imagines them in the black, blue deserted Jerwood.
Deleuze is cited in the catalogue in relation to Anne-Mie Melis’ Are Your Petunias Actually Transgenic (it’s a good show for titles), an installation involving tree trunks and animation, but Luke Jerram’s seismograph data from the Tohoku earthquake evokes concepts of waves and dunes. Terrible power concentrated between tiny resin grooves provides definition but 28 seconds (rotated sound file of Hiroshima bomb) is even more potent: sound captured less as a marker in time than a dagger-sharp splinter in the heart of the twentieth century. It contains multitudes, anticipates its own impact, while Jerram’s blown glass E.coli also fascinates and repels.
Patience and concentration are rewarded. Others may enjoy The Owl Project’s sound sculptures of wood and electronics but more expansive, immediate and enduring is Jonathan Anderson’s Dark Star which magnificently fills its own room. Composed of coal dust, fibreglass and resin, its black points reach for the white ceiling, glittering under spotlight. As in Fitzpatrick and Anderson, Dark Star encourages then rejects you, shifting the terms of intimacy. Please do not touch is printed small on the wall as though sensitive to the sculpture’s ability to look after itself. At once deathly, affirming and belligerent, how strange to imagine it transported to the forest; will it resist those who disassemble it’ How durable is it’ Is it soft beneath the black or will Dark Star, like the dust that used to stick to miners’ hands until they were buried or cremated, out last us’